[NOTE: This is a transcript of a similar sermon to the recording above, but preached on a different occasion]
We're turning in our Bibles to Ephesians chapter 6. Just in case it is someone's first time here, at least for my visit, we have been looking at Ephesians chapter 6 from verse 10 and following, the armour of God. We've been looking at it under the heading of 'Spiritual Warfare'. So last Sunday morning I gave a general introduction to the whole subject of what it means to be in a spiritual war, and some of the prerequisites before we even put on the armour, taking into account that this armour is found chapter 6 and Paul has already written five chapters to the Ephesians. It's vital that we know the context of what's being taught here, and indeed the requirements of us as Christian soldiers before we even get to the point of battle. I don't want to unnecessarily repeat that. You can get the recordings, or I think they're available online, so it would be good for you to just do a bit of swotting regarding that - because this is not about some quick fix of putting pieces of clothing on, and all of a sudden being devil-proof. That does not happen!
As we saw this morning, these particular pieces of armour are actual life conditions that God wants to develop in each of us, so that we will - all day, every day - be protected from the wiles, the schemes, the methods, the fiery darts of the evil one. There is no sense, as I intimated this morning, no sense waiting until the devil goes on the offensive in order to get the armour on. We need to be walking every day in these life conditions in order to be protected, so that when the evil day comes we are ready to face our enemy.
We looked then last Sunday evening - what did we look at? We looked at the belt of truth, did we also look at the breastplate of righteousness? I think we did. We saw the imperative of truthfulness in our lives, listening to the truth, believing the truth, standing firm on the truth, being truthful with God, being truthful with ourselves, being truthful with one another. The breastplate of righteousness - the accuser, that's Satan, he wants things to stick right in our gut, right in the seat of our affections, in our hearts - accusations. It's the righteousness of Christ that we take on upon ourselves that covers us.
This morning we looked at the shoes of the Gospel. If you weren't with us, we were talking about how we stand firm on the victory ground of what Jesus has done for us. We saw a little bit about what that means in practical way, and also a readiness to take the Gospel of peace to those who need to hear it. Tonight we're going to look at the shield of faith, but we will just read the whole passage together. I know it's repetition, but it's God's word being repeated - and I'm hoping that these weeks, as we read the same portion over and over again, that it's washing our minds and our hearts, and it might even go into our memory somewhat. I'm hoping that that might be a side-effect of reading it together each session.
Verse 10, then, of Ephesians chapter 6: "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints" - we will end our reading there.
Now we're going to pray together, let's come to the Lord. Let's quieten ourselves before the Lord. I believe in practising a consciousness of God's presence - what that is is to recognise the fact that He is with us, He has promised to be so, but to actually with our hearts, by faith to engage that reality - because that might be the farthest thing away from any of our consciousnesses at this very moment. So we need to just attune our hearts, as it were, to the objective reality of the presence of God with us. We want the Lord to be known among us, to be sensed as here, so let's come and let's just quieten ourselves. We're going to take a moment or two to do this, let's just still ourselves before the Lord. Just relax where you're sitting, and try and relax your being just before the Lord and focus your mind on Him. Just do that, focus your mind on His presence - would you do that? Focus your mind on His presence, He is here. Even say to Him: 'Lord Jesus, please come to me tonight, please draw near'. Let's just do that for a moment or two, just from your heart, quietly just draw near to God that He may draw near to you.
Father, we want to recognise and reverence Your presence with us here. We want there to be no barrier or blockage in our minds or hearts, or even in this space, or even in our relationships with each other, that would hinder You moving in our midst and in each of our lives. So I pray now in the name of the Lord Jesus, Father, that You will send the Holy Spirit, to bring the presence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into this place, the Triune Godhead. We reverence You, holy, holy, holy; and we welcome You, Triune Godhead; we make space and make way and make room for You to come. We ask that You will drive out every other presence, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, by His authority and His kingdom, I would bind every ungodly presence, every force of darkness that would seek to operate in this place tonight, I bind you in Jesus name. I say: 'The Lord rebuke you, and I forbid you to operate tonight, I forbid you. I silence you in Jesus' name'. I pray, Father, a covering of the precious blood over this place. I pray that Your kingdom and domain would come here and now. Oh come, Lord, we pray, and take a dealing and have Your way tonight in the midst and in our lives, in our families, in our homes, and in this church. Come and have Your way, crush Satan beneath our feet we pray, for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ we ask these things. Amen.
Now verse 16 is where we're at: 'Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one'. This phrase 'above all', well, it would suggest perhaps initially, that of primary importance is the shield of faith. There is no doubt about it, logistically speaking the shield of faith would be on top of the other pieces of armour, it would be an extra layer if you like. You've got the clothing aspect, this is something that is now taken by the warrior's hand, and then added in front of him as an extra field of protection. So that may well be what is meant here in one sense, it's put above the other pieces of armour. But there may well be the aspect here that this is a most important piece of armour that must not be neglected, and I think it is insinuated that if you put on every other piece of armour, and didn't have this one vital aspect of defence, you would be seriously compromised in the battle. It does appear that this is the piece of defence that will, in fact, meet all the onslaught of the enemy directly. If you look at verse 16, you will see that this instrument is to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.
So I suppose that the other parts of armour that we have already put on - the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the Gospel of peace - are the last defence, should any of these fiery darts or weapons come through the shield. Are you with me? The shield, really, is the first port of defence for this warrior - and it is a sturdy piece of kit, I can assure you. When we read about a shield, sometimes our minds can go back to story books, Bible story books, and secular story books, of a round sort of button-shield, we might call it. It used to be called a buckler, and it was a round or an oval shield, reasonably small, and it was easily maneuvered because of that. But this is not the type of shield that we ought to have in our minds when we're reading this verse. No doubt the Apostle Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had in his mind what we would call a 'door shield'.
The door-shield was approximately 2.5 feet by 4 feet - a huge shield. It was made of two pieces of plywood stuck together, two layers of laminated wood glued together. It was covered then with linen, and then leather hide - then it would be embossed and bound at the top and the bottom of the shield with iron tips, and then an iron ornament on the front. It was often soaked with water, so that when any of these fiery darts penetrated it, it would be extinguished immediately. What the enemies would do is, they would take arrows, they would take darts, and they would dip them in pitch, tar, they would set them alight - so this is not just poetic licence the Apostle's using here as he describes these fiery darts. This is literally the way warfare was! They would set these incendiary devices on fire, and they would be directed towards the soldier - and if he did not have this shield high in front of him, he would be literally engulfed in fire. Indeed history tells us that after the siege of Dyrrachium, Sceva the warrior counted no less than 220 darts in his shield alone! So you can imagine how this warfare was conducted.
Now, I imagine that if you have been a Christian for any length of time - and I'm assuming that (and it's a big assumption, I know) that you are a Christian, and that you're seeking to go on with the Lord - but if you are, you will know the heat of the battle. I have certainly known it very much this week. I know it all the time, but for some reason this week has been particularly heated in the battle. You will know what it is for fiery darts to come towards you.
Now, what are these fiery darts? Well, we could literally translate it 'missiles of the evil one'. I spoke to you this morning a little bit in introduction, about how if you studied a human discipline for hundreds or a thousand years, you would be an expert in it - equally Satan has been studying human nature for maybe 6 to 10 thousand years, and so he knows exactly what buttons to press. He knows specifically the issues that are problematic toward you, and so these fiery darts are things that will set you alight! Did you know that you are flammable? Did you know that? Spiritually speaking you are flammable, and the enemy knows the exact weapon to use that will set you on fire.
Would you turn with me to James chapter 1 for a moment, I did share with you - I think it was last week - that we ought to try and look beyond the temptation to the tempter. So many of us get obsessed with resisting temptation, that we are struggling, wrestling with it, and it gets the better of us. Like I talked about the cream bun, if I study it, it will overcome me - no doubt! So we've got to get beyond it to the calories, and to what the cream bun will do to me - 'a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips and all that' - equally so with the tempter, the temptation will be tantalising. By the way, sin is pleasurable, that's what Hebrews says, sin is pleasurable for a season - that's why it's such a problem. I mean, if sin wasn't pleasurable it wouldn't be an issue, temptation wouldn't be tempting. It's like Oscar Wilde said: 'The only thing that I can't resist is temptation' - and he certainly knew all about that.
So the point is: sin is pleasurable. There's no sense on any preacher standing up in a pulpit in church, and saying: 'Oh, sin is rotten, and sin is terrible, and sin is really not all it's cracked up to be'. In one sense it's not, but it is pleasurable, and there's no sense telling young people that it's not. You'd be better telling them: 'Yes, it is, but there is a venomous bite of the serpent that comes in after, and the wages of sin is death' - the wages of sin is death. It's the after-effect of sin, what it does, and the spiritual death that it actually births in you.
So with temptation we need to realise our weaknesses. Now let's look at these verses here regarding temptation - verse 12: 'Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone'. So God never entices you to do evil, that's not to say He doesn't allow us, at times, to move into areas where we are challenged and tested - but He is not the one hanging the carrot on the stick. God never entices anyone to do evil. He may allow us to enter a race where there is a carrot on a stick for our strengthening, for our good - but He will never be the one who entices us to do evil. Verse 14: 'But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren'.
Now, what's happening here? The devil tempts us with evil, OK? That comes from outside of us, but because of our fallen human nature, there is something within us that is like a magnetic draw to that temptation - but don't you think that everybody's tempted the same way. The enemy knows the fiery dart, the temptation, to fly your way that will set you alight, that may not set another person alight. Let me give you an analogy: you're walking along a road, and you see a big fat wallet lying at the side of the pavement, big, crisp new notes, loads of them! There it is sitting there, and you have got bills galore to pay - maybe you're a business person and things are really tight, and you're struggling at the moment. What are you tempted to do? Are you tempted? Some people would be tempted to lift that and say nothing, and pay the bills. There are even folk - and don't you laugh at this, because many of us can do this, in our desperate moments we can all rationalise and reason about sin - and we could say: 'Oh, Lord, I've been praying that the Lord would meet my need, and would sort this out, and I mean what else can explain walking along and seeing a big fat wallet full of 50 pound notes? I mean it must be God! Only God could do that!'. We can reason and rationalise, and we might be tempted to lift that. But some of us genuinely would not be tempted - I'm not saying the thought wouldn't cross our mind, but we genuinely wouldn't be tempted. Do you understand?
We're walking the dog another night, and there's a bag full of pornographic magazines by the side of the road. Now some of us instinctively would just grab the sack, and just swing it over into the field - no problem, not a thought - but others of us, out on our own walking the dog, in the middle of nowhere, would be tempted to have a little look. Now what am I saying? What I am saying is that the devil knows the exact incendiary dart to send your way. Do you know what we do? We are so hypocritical: we will look down our nose at the other person for lifting the wallet to pay the bills, but we'll get knee deep in porn if we have half a chance. I'm not condemning you for that, I know my own temptations, but what I am saying is that all of us have buttons that the enemy can press, all of us have weak spots that make us flammable to the fiery darts of the enemy - and if we have our defences down, and if we don't have the shield of faith, they will get in and they will set us alight! Do you understand?
The process of temptation: Satan tempts us, we are drawn and enticed by the lusts that are within us, the passions that are within us, and then sin is born within us, and then it brings forth death - that's the process of how the devil wants to get a hold over us. There are thousands of ways that the enemy can set us aflame, he sets us on fire. Look at the text: He sets us on fire from hell. The tongue is an awful member set on fire from hell, but there are a lot of other members that can be set on fire by hell. It might be sexual lust, that is certainly a huge problem in the church in particular - and nobody wants to talk about it. I know it's a delicate thing, and you have to be careful in a mixed gathering when there's young people - but let's be real: listen to what your young people are hearing every day and seeing every day. We want to protect them in church, and we're not protecting them anywhere else! In fact, we're exposing them often through the media, and through social networks, and all the rest - even in school they're hearing much more. They need to hear the truth of what God says about sexuality from the Scripture. He is the One who invented sex, He had the first sex thought, He's the One who had given it to us as a beautiful gift - and we need to be real enough and honest enough to present our young people with the reality before the playground does. This is how the enemy is getting in.
Maybe your issues are sexual issues, and you feel that you can't even share them with anybody, because no Christians could have those issues! Uhuh? You think? Or maybe it is business, maybe it is compromise financially - filling in the tax forms or whatever. Maybe your issue is pride. Maybe it's worry, what we talked about this morning, or unbelief. Maybe it's a jealousy or covetousness towards others. Often the problems are in our mind - we'll be talking next week about the helmet of salvation, specifically about the mind. We were thinking a little bit about it this morning, what you fill your mind with: positive things, the truth rather than lies - but often the enemy comes with accusing lies, blasphemous thoughts. Have you ever had that? In a very holy moment, a blasphemous thought just comes out of nowhere - and it hasn't come out of your heart, it's not something that you would naturally conjure up or think about. Now there's an awful lot can come out of our hearts, let's not kid ourselves - but have you ever had that experience of something coming out of nowhere, and you're thinking, 'What!'. The biggest mistake that you could ever make it's to say 'Oh, that must be from me, and I must be a terribly bad person' - and then you condemn yourself for a thought that the devil gave you.
It's a great release to know that these things don't always come from you, and don't always come from your heart - but the mind can be open to many perversities. The heart can affected by incendiary devices that instil hatred in us towards others. Often when the devil shoots a dart at us, one of our biggest mistakes is that we don't extinguish that dart immediately, by faith, the shield of faith - and it sets us alight, and when the fire starts it's very hard to get rid of. We must learn to use the shield of faith and protect ourselves, spirit, soul, and body - for effectively that's what the shield of faith is doing, isn't it? It's covering the whole person, spirit, soul, and body - and the inference is that if that dart gets in, it will be the spirit, the soul, and even the body that will be affected by the fire of hell.
Let's talk a little bit about what this shield of faith is. Let's talk about faith first of all. Turn with me to Romans chapter 1 verse 16, Paul says: 'For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it', that is, in the Gospel, 'the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith''. Now I have alluded to this before, but the Christian faith, the Gospel of God's righteousness, is from faith to faith - that has been rendered, 'it is a faith operation from start to finish'. 'For the just shall live by faith', now that's a quotation from Habakkuk chapter 2 and verse 4, and it's found three times in the New Testament - the just shall live by faith. It's the great verse that Martin Luther discovered, and rediscovered, and upon which effectively the Reformation was built: to realise that we do not have a righteousness from God through our works or our effort, but it's through faith that God accredits to us His own righteousness - just through an act of faith in what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross and resurrection, the just shall live by faith.
The three times that it's found in the New Testament, the first here in the book of Romans, then in Galatians chapter 3, and then in Hebrews chapter 11 - and each time there is a different emphasis to show us that this Christian life is from faith from start to finish. In the book of Romans, part of what Romans is about is how a person can be just before God, how a person can be made righteous - and the emphasis is on the first two words of that statement: 'the just' shall live by faith. In other words, if you want to be just before God, it is by faith. This is how you're made righteous, not through good works, but through faith in what Jesus has done. In the book of Galatians the great controversy was that some of them had started in the Spirit, they were born again, and they were trying to be made perfect in their Christianity in the flesh. Paul comes in and he says: the just 'shall live' by faith. How do you live this Christian life? Is it by the works of the law? No! 'By the works of the law no flesh shall be justified', but it's by faith. This is how we live! It's not just how we are made righteous, it's how we live our daily life: we start by faith, and we must continue in the Spirit by faith.
Then the book of Hebrews, if you come with me to chapter 10, the writer says in verse 38 of chapter 10: 'Now the just shall live by faith', there's that verse again, Habakkuk 2:3. What is the emphasis here in the Hebrews? It's simply the last two words: 'by faith', the just shall live 'by faith'. This is how you actually realise this righteousness, and this life in the Spirit, it is by faith. Look at verse 1 then of chapter 11: 'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen', and then down to verse 6, 'But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him'.
So let's summarise all this. This Christianity is all about faith from start to finish. OK, it's about what Jesus did on the cross, it's about His death and His resurrection - but as we have noted time and time again as we have looked at the armour of God, it is about our appropriation, by faith, of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Taking by faith what He has done, and appropriating it and applying it to our lives. Without such faith it is impossible to please God - it's impossible to please God without faith! You would need to know what faith is, wouldn't you? You would need to make sure that you're right before God on the grounds of faith, nothing else, nothing more, nothing less, but faith alone. You would need to make sure you're living your Christian life in the power of the Spirit by faith, not by works, not by walking on the clean side of the street, not by keeping your nose clean, and saying things right and doing things right, and not doing all the wrong stuff - that is law, that is religion, that is not Christianity. You must make sure it's faith that is in operation, that this life that you are living is animated by faith - and you need to understand what faith is!
Well, look at verse 1 of chapter 11: 'Faith is the evidence of things not seen, the substance of things hoped for'. The evidence of things not seen? What? How can you have evidence of things not seen? Well, you do have evidence of things not seen. I think you have evidence of a brain, I think you do! You're moving, you're showing certain sensory perception - I can't see your brain, but I'm prepared to take it on faith that you might have one. I can't see the wind, I can see the effects of the wind, but I can't see the wind. There are many things in our universe that are invisible and imperceptible to the eye, but I believe in them because I see the evidence of them. But the evidence of God's word is what I need for faith - it is, if you like, the Testament, it is the down payment, it is the guarantee, it is the title deed - that's how the Amplified Version translates verse 1 of Hebrews 11: faith is the title deed to my inheritance! You say: 'How can I know that this is going to happen, that you're telling me to believe is going to happen?'. Well, the faith is the proof that it's going to happen, and faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Now maybe that's confusing some of you. If God endues faith in you through a word from Him, you can have that as an actual testimony, you can have that faith as a guarantee, a title deed to your possession. Are you with me? The faith that is gifted by God through His word. But listen: without this faith it is impossible to please God. Now I need to say this, I feel led of God to say this, that in certain circles of evangelicalism faith has been dealt a deadly blow by unbelief that has come through doctrinal emphasis. One of the most deadly - and I'm sorry if I do trample on your toes, I really don't want to, but I might have to - is the teaching that suggests and infers that the power of the Holy Spirit basically died with the apostles. Have you ever heard anything remotely like that? No, you have never? Where have you been? That's all I've ever heard for many many years.
Now I'm not talking about literally not believing in the power of the Holy Spirit, or in the Third Person of the Godhead, I'm talking about practical unbelief in regards to the things of the Spirit. That is, that the whole supernatural, miraculous sphere, certain gifts that were given to the church in the early New Testament experience, that they are no longer relevant, and they certainly are not present within the church since the death of the apostles. Now that is deadly, because right away what you have done is jettisoned faith in people to believe in anything other than the mundane and the natural. You see, he that comes to God must believe that He is - and what that actually is saying is: expectancy draws God. You've got to have faith to expect God to do things. Now it's not, you know, a wish list: 'Oh, I would like God to do this for me, God would You do that for me?', and He does it - I'm not talking about that, that's New Age, or something in an aberrant movement maybe in some sections of Christendom. I'm not talking about some kind of wish, and name it and claim it. What I'm talking about is what the word of God promises, what faith has been induced in us to believe is God's will for us, and we then expect it - no matter how hare-brained it seems to be in the natural sphere, in the natural realm. You see, the word brings faith, and when it is animated by the Holy Spirit, we come and we cry to God, and we have the petitions we have asked of Him when we have asked according to His will - and then we get it - but there has to be expectancy.
If you remember, we were in James chapter 1 there, and it says: 'You have not because you ask not; and then many of you ask and you don't have, because you ask amiss to consume it upon your lusts'. If you're double-minded, forget about asking, for you're unstable in all your ways and you will get nothing from the Lord - double-mindedness, double-mindedness, unbelief, unbelief. Are you with me? Now, what do you think unbelief would do to the shield of faith? Well, it relegates it to nonexistence - because, listen: faith and unbelief are mutually exclusive. By the way, just harping a bit back to this morning: fear and faith are mutually exclusive. Often our theologies come out of fear. Now please don't misunderstand me: I'm not suggesting that we go around telling people to stop taking medication, and we start claiming these things in the name of the Lord Jesus that we have no right to claim - I'm not saying that. But I am asking the question: is it often the case that our theological constructs can be formed out of fear of God not coming through? God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and a sound mind.
But I want to move on, because I don't want to talk about faith in a conceptual way. Sometimes we do this in Christianity: we talk about faith, and love, and peace, and all these things as attributes, as if they are separated in some way from the personality of God, and they're not. I actually believe here that faith is God Himself, the shield of faith is God Himself. Let me show you this. This is the only reference in the New Testament to a shield, alright? So we really need to go into the Old Testament to find out a little bit more. I want you to look at two texts, first of all I want you to go to Genesis chapter 15. Now the context of this verse is that Abram is just at the end of a struggle against the unbelieving Kings of the plain who had attacked the King of Sodom and his allies. You don't need to worry too much about that, if you don't understand it go home and read it - but that is the context of battle, it's a fight. Abram is God's man, by the way, he's the man of faith, he's God's friend - what a picture for us. Here in chapter 15 of Genesis, verse 1, it says: 'After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward'' - what a statement! I mean, Abram was just one man, wasn't he? Now I know he had a band of men behind him, and he was a very wealthy and capable man in various respects - but God was with him, and God was his shield, and God was his reward. He wouldn't even receive a reward from the King of Sodom, he looked, he said, up to the Living God for his provisions and his well-being.
Now, you see, I think there's a link here - that God is our shield, God is our reward. By the way, I think here's a word for some people in the meeting tonight - it's for all of us, but all of us may not be able to receive it. God is your defence, God! I remember years ago reading a little booklet by A.W. Tozer, 'How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit' - and I'm always a wee bit wary of books on 'how do we do this', and 'how to do that', you could buy a hundred of them and find a hundred different ways, but A.W. Tozer is very reliable. He was really not talking about how to initially have a crisis of infilling by faith, he was talking about how to maintain a Spirit-filled life. One of the little tips that he gave for everyday daily experience to remain filled with the Holy Spirit was this: never defend yourself, never defend yourself. Now please don't misunderstand that statement. He's not saying that you just become a doormat, he's not saying that if you're in a bullying or abusive situation that you just put up with it - that's not what we're talking about. What we are talking about is that inner fleshly desire to always get one up on someone, or always have the last word, or always win out in the end - or, if we are wronged, if we have been wronged and we know we are in the right, we have to let people know it, and they need to know the whole truth. Justice must be done, but it has to be seen and heard to be done! We have to have our pound of flesh, we have to protect our good name and defend ourselves. I know the natural objections that come in the flesh when we talk like this - I could argue it all day - but the best thing for me to do is just to say this: when He was reviled, He reviled not again, but He committed himself to the Just Judge in heaven - this is my translation - who will iron out all the creases on the final day.
The Lord is your defence. Do you know what I find the best thing to do? Don't think I've got a persecution complex, I don't - I like to think most people like me! But more and more as I go through ministry, and as you stand by your convictions, you realise that you ruffle a few feathers - and there is a temptation to defend yourself, even from the pulpit. It's a big one. You wouldn't deck somebody at the door, but you'd have a jolly good job in your sermon at giving them a rough time - there is a temptation there. I've probably used the pulpit several times like that in the past, but that's defending yourself - that's the flesh. The Lord will defend me if I'm right, and He'll even defend me when I'm wrong - but I don't need to do it. But do you see how the Lord here is the shield and the reward?
Then a second mention is Moses in his song of praise. If you go to Deuteronomy 33, Moses is extolling the majesty of the God of Israel, and in Deuteronomy 33 we begin reading at verse 27 - some of you are familiar with these words: 'The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and will say, 'Destroy!'. Then Israel shall dwell in safety, the fountain of Jacob alone, in a land of grain and new wine; His heavens shall also drop dew. Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help and the sword of your majesty! Your enemies shall submit to you, and you shall tread down their high places'. Wow! That would be worthy of you revisiting, wouldn't it, and going through each of those statements? God will fight for us, the battle belongs to the Lord. Remember: we are not wrestling with flesh and blood, Ephesians 6:12. So I might disagree with you, and in fact you might have daggers toward me, but my issue is not with you - it's with whatever the forces are behind you that want to make you feel that way. My issue is not with Charles Darwin, my issue is not with Richard Dawkins, my issue is with the forces that are manipulating behind him and behind aggressive atheism and secularism in our society. My issue is not with homosexual people, I am called to love them in Jesus' name - my issue is with the forces of darkness that are perverting God's creative order and sexual ideal. Are you with me?
So often we are seen to be wrestling with people, battling with people - and the church has been so guilty of that all down through the ages. When you talk about spiritual warfare, they think you're talking about jihad - whether it's the Islamists, or whether it's the Crusaders of the Middle Ages - it's taking an actual sword. Our land needs to repent of having taken up arms - and I'm not talking about the Provos and the UDA, that was nothing to do with religion, never has been - I'm talking about way back when men signed covenants in order to take up arms to defend their beliefs, and it was ungodly, it was ungodly. The Lord will fight for us, we are a New Covenant people, He is our defence.
Now turn with me quickly, and I'll wrap it up soon, to 1 Peter 5 verse 8. Here's another one of these exhortations and warnings from the apostle Peter this time. Do you remember I said that, without any exception as far as I'm aware, all the portions of Scripture in the New Testament warning us about the devil are written to Christians? I hear people telling me: 'Oh, the devil can't touch you when you're under the blood. When you're under the blood, that's it, the devil can't touch you'. Really? Is that why so much Scripture is warning Christians to be careful of the enemy, and not be ignorant of his devices, not give him a foothold either in our lives or in the church? Is that why He has given us an armour to put on, because there are fiery darts coming at us? Is that why, in my everyday prayer ministry that I do privately at home, that I am dealing with Christians on a regular basis who are demonised? Is that why? Verse 8 says: 'Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour'. As I said to you, he hates you and he wants to destroy you. Now, how do we deal with him? 'Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world'. How do we resist him? Steadfast in the - what? Faith! Now that's not just what we believe, that's how we believe: steadfast, resisting the enemy, standing with those gospel shoes on, but with the shield of faith - that's how we believe.
It's mighty, I'm telling you. Leonard Ravenhill, I think it was, who said in a mighty book I would highly recommend to you, it would be great if you started reading this one - all of you - 'Why Revival Tarries'. Has anybody ever read that book, 'Why Revival Tarries', by Leonard Ravenhill? One? Wow! There's some work to do there - it's very cheap, you can probably get it in Ards Bookshop - 'Why Revival Tarries', Leonard Ravenhill, a mighty book. One of the things he said in that book is: 'One of these days some simple soul will take up the book of God and will believe it, and we will all be left with red faces'.
The shield of faith is what will overcome. Turn with me quickly to 1 John, and this is an encouragement for young men. Young men, you're struggling with all sorts of problems - not just young men, young women as well, and some not so young men and women. But, you know, you would think it was the 21st-century invented some of these modern day temptations and problems. The truth of the matter is - and I do believe we are coming near the Lord's return, and there is a falling away and all the rest - but the fact of the matter is: in first century civilisation, a lot of these sins were more prevalent in society than they even are yet today in our society. We're very quickly getting there, but you only need to read Romans 1, you need to read the history books of what went on in the Roman Empire - and you start to realise it. So listen, young people: early Christians had the temptations that you're going through, nothing peculiar about this particular day and age. But listen to what John says in 1 John 4 verse 4: 'You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world' - now you've got to make sure He is in you, you've got to make sure you're born again, and you really need to be filled with the Holy Spirit - but then you can know that the Lord is filling you and possessing you, and you can believe that He is greater than anything outside of you that would seek to overcome you. Look at verse 18: 'There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love'. You've got love, not fear; and you can overcome the enemy!
There is a statement later on in this book about you young men overcoming the enemy, about old men overcoming the enemy, about it being our faith that has overcome the world - it is even our faith that overcomes! Now, it's not my intention to be overly controversial in this statement, but the book of Revelation has a lot of question marks for me - but one of them, and maybe some of you can enlighten me on this, is the group in the book of Revelation called 'the overcomers'. They don't fit terribly well in a lot of theological ideas that we have about the book of Revelation, save to say this: it talks about a world engulfed in persecution and tribulation, and in the seven letters that Christ gave to the seven churches through the apostle John, He exhorted them all to overcome - to overcome sin, to overcome Satan, to overcome the darkness. It is to the overcomers that the promises of the book of Revelation are given. Now you can iron all that out if you want, but what I'm trying to say to you is: there is faith to overcome, even a world engulfed with antichrist and the beast and the false prophet, and hellish devilishness that is just engulfing the world that will come out of many a pit. There is faith in God that overcomes, and this shield is simply laying hold upon God - it's simply laying hold upon God.
Underneath, round about, like a shield - but here's the punchline: you've got to take this shield. You see it? It comes from outside of you, look at the verse, verse 16, it comes from outside of you - you've got to take, like every piece of armour, you've got to put it on - but specifically it says: 'Take the shield of faith'. You've got to reach out, and you've got to surround yourself with the protection of your Heavenly Father. Is that what you do? Is that what you do on a regular basis? Incidentally, in the Roman battalions the soldiers, when they were moving in a troop, if they were attacked together - you've maybe seen it on history programmes, or in books - they would link their shields together, they would interlock their shields together over their heads and make it a canopy of protection, like a solid wall against the enemy. Yes, there is faith in God and in His promises, and how we believe - not listening to the lies of the enemy, but believing the truth of God - and that will work individually as, day by day, we decide, 'I'm not going to worry, I'm not going to fear, I'm not going to be my own protector. I'm going to take God as my protection, my shield and exceeding great reward. I'm going to let Him be my defence against the enemies'. But listen: what a power there is against the enemy when we, as an army together, link shields - stop fighting one another and link shields! You know, the enemy is out there - did you know that? Sometimes he does get in here, but he's meant to be out there. We are meant to be pulling down strongholds, and every argumentation against the knowledge of God. We've got weapons that are mighty through God, weapons that are not carnal but are spiritual and mighty through God - and that's the battle we are meant to be in, and that battle belongs to the Lord.
Have you got the shield of faith? I'll never forget first hearing that story of those American missionaries, one of whom was the famous Jim Elliot, who went to witness to a virgin tribe who had never known Christ nor the Gospel - the Auca Indians in South America. This is in the 40s or 50s, before they went out - and they would go out to their death - they sang that old hymn:
'We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender!
We go not forth alone against the foe;
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender,
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go'.
Another old hymn puts it like this:
'The storm may roar without me, my heart may low be laid,
But God is round about me, and can I be dismayed?'.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Ards Evangelical Church in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his 'Spiritual Warfare' series, entitled "The Shield Of Faith" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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